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10 Tips for a Great ELCA Youth Gathering

Gathering3In just a few weeks, in journeys that make the Exodus out of Egypt pale in logistical comparison, 30,000 people are going to load buses, planes and vans and head to Detroit for the ELCA Youth Gathering.  It’s going to be 5 days (plus travel, plus side trips) of amazing opportunities for all involved to grow in their faith.

This will be my tenth time to the ELCA Youth Gathering, and I’ve always found it to be an incredible ministry opportunity.  I’ve participated as a youth minister bringing a group, as a volunteer and as a team leader, so I’ve seen it from a lot of different angles.  Having said that, let me be crystal clear:  I am not an expert.  Not at all.  (And I’m not writing this in any kind of an official Gathering capacity.)  But over the years, I have learned some things that might be helpful in making this an amazing experience for your group.  I’d like to share those things with you:

  1. Plan on 3 things going wrong for every person you bring to the Gathering.
    That means, if you are bringing 15 people from your congregation, plan on your group having 45 problems during the trip.  These could be everything from your flight being delayed, to a traffic jam in Chicago that will slow you down (likely), to the hotel losing part of your reservation, to there being no restaurants open at the time you decide to eat dinner.  Tell your group to plan on 3 problems for every person.  And then talk about how you’ll deal with the problems when they come up.  (calmly…logically…looking for solutions…no whining…etc…)  The reality is, you probably won’t have this many group problems.  But if you do, you’re emotionally ready for them.  And if you don’t, you’ve ‘beaten’ your expectations.
  2. Be kind to the volunteers.  
    The folks in Gathering team shirts?  The odds are 99.9% that they are a volunteer who is as excited as you are to be there.  It’s not their fault that the floor of Ford Field has been closed off…it’s not their fault that it’s hot out and that there aren’t water fountains nearby…it’s not their fault that your bus was late and that you missed your launch time.  They are there out of the goodness of their heart and they want to help.  I’ve seen adult group leaders treat volunteers horribly.  And when you’re tired, hot, sweaty and impatient, please remember that it’s not their fault.  They’re following instructions.  So treat them (and everybody for that matter) kindly. And your group will be watching you.  If you’re patient, they’ll be patient (perhaps even with you).  You’ll have a better week, I promise!
  3. Be prepared to interpret.
    Here’s something that folks don’t always understand.  The Gathering is not a stand alone event.  It’s a huge event, with tons of resources poured into it, but if you just show up, plan on participating and expecting that the power of the event will somehow create a transformational event in the lives of your young people, you quite possibly will be disappointed.  The Gathering isn’t intended to just be everything to everybody.  The Gathering depends on the congregational adult group leaders to interpret the experience with the young people.  You’ll need to talk through everything that you have done with them.  Asking and processing the different “day” experiences, and helping young people figure out how to put these things into the context of their own lives.  Groups that do this have a great experience.  Groups that don’t sometimes walk away and say “meh.”
  4. Don’t miss stuff.
    Sometimes I’ve seen groups walking away from the Gathering during a time of great programming to go do something on their own.  A baseball game…a tour…whatever…  Here’s my advice:  Don’t do that.  There is so much at the Gathering to do and experience, that I’d really encourage you to jump in 1000% and experience as much as you can.  Look for gaps in the schedule to do some of the other stuff.  But don’t miss the Gathering.
  5. Water.
    Make sure your group and you drink a lot of it.  I know, I sound like your Mom.  But I’ve seen lots of people go down from dehydration at these things.  And that will ruin someone’s day.
  6. There’s no such thing as down time.
    I’ve walked past the crowds of people sitting outside the general sessions awaiting admission.  I’ve seen some groups sitting there…flopped down…bored…waiting.  Then I’ve walked by groups where group leaders have their group sitting in a circle on the sidewalk.  They’re playing “Full Contact Spoons,” or answering questions from a “Would You Rather?” book, or are doing impromptu skits and drawing people from other groups into it.  And the young people are engaged, and laughing, and having fun.  That’s a group I’d want to be a part of.  Carry props and games in your backpack and have a list of possibilities ready to go.  (I know one guy who carried around a small bullhorn…yes, a bullhorn…just for these moments.  Do you know how much fun you can have with a bullhorm?  “Hello Domino’s…this is the Gathering Commander…please bring me a pizza!”  But not inside Ford Field, please.)
  7. It’s not about you.
    Once I walked through a hotel lobby in the late afternoon.  It was a “gap time” when the afternoon programming was wrapping up and well before dinner.  As I walked through the hotel lobby I looked over and saw 3 adult group leaders sitting in the hotel bar having a beer.  I literally stopped in my tracks.  Really?  I get the desire to take a break and enjoy a cold beverage.  But that was just plain wrong.  I had to work hard to keep from going over and shouting at them.  And it reminded me that sometimes we forget that when we bring a group, as leaders we are there for the group.  We’re “all in.”  And to step away from the group for a moment like that 1) breaks the covenant we all agree to by being a part of the Gathering; 2) pulls us away from our group when we are supposed to be there for them, and; 3) is stupid.  When we’re at the Gathering, we’re there for the group; totally and completely.  Wait and have your beer when you get home.  Have two.  I don’t care.
  8. Don’t yell stuff in Ford Field.
    Ok, this is a personal pet peeve.  And it’s been better in recent years.  But occasionally someone somewhere will yell something out in the general sessions.  Like their state name, or something like that, trying to elicit a reaction.  And then people cheer, and it totally throws off the direction and mood that the Dome Teams are trying to create.  And it’s dumb.  I’m sure that Vermont is a nice place…but at that moment, we don’t care that you’re from there.  I always told my group that the person who did something like that would have to ride home from the Gathering in the bathroom of the bus.  That threat, by the way, works for a lot of things.
  9. Be kind to the volunteers.
    Oh…did I already mention this one?
  10. Plan on eating at odd times.
    Most people try to eat at…well, meal times.  That’s when the lines are long and you’ll waste a lot of time.  Pick some odd times.  Bring snacky breakfast stuff (fruit…toaster pasteries…etc…) for breakfast, granola bars for late morning snack and then eat lunch and dinner at an “off-time.”  You’ll be much happier not waiting in a 55 minute line for Freaky Fast Jimmy John’s.
There you go.  Just some ideas.  Use some…ignore some…it’s totally up to you.  Just remember to remain focused on the young people and their experience with Jesus.  Because Jesus is already there, waiting for you and your group.
Have a great journey and an amazing Gathering!
See you in Detroit!

Why You Should Watch the Live Stream from Detroit (and ideas for doing so)

Paul Amlin

Paul Amlin

Guest blog post by Rev. Paul Amlin, Program Director for Youth Ministry; Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Chicago, Illinois

I was texting back and forth with a seminary friend this morning and the topic of the ELCA Youth Gathering, Detroit, and how the Gathering will address issues like the Charleston killings and racism during our time together. This got me thinking. If someone has never experienced a youth gathering, or hasn’t been to one in recent years, they would have no way of knowing how deep and wide we go to deal with current issues, key issues, issues that get to what it means to love our neighbor and to learn from them. I’m convinced that the bold choice to go to Detroit is affirmed in the subject matter we’ll address (equity, racism, justice to name a short list), the city where racism has played a major part in history, and recent events in our country. 

This led me to think about ways to engage the material, the real examples and teaching from Detroit in our local communities. We have been blessed, the last two cycles at least, to have live streaming available for anyone with a laptop, computer, tablet or smartphone and access to the Internet. Through the stream you will be able to watch a live morning program hosted by youth at COBO (convention center) and grab a seat at Ford Field to hear the music, the praise and worship, and to hear powerful speakers address contemporary issues in light of and in response to faith in Jesus Christ. Young people and the adults who accompany them to Detroit will likely leave the city inspired (and tired!) but also wired to do big things back at home. What better way to engage this energy than to have your congregation participate through watching the live stream?

So here are a few ideas for streaming parties for all ages.

1) Open the church each evening of the Gathering, put up a screen and a projector and order some pizza or have a world-Gathering1famous Lutheran potluck dinner. You could pray for those in Detroit before the stream begins, watch the stream, take notes, then discuss what you heard in small groups afterward. 

2) Since not everyone will make it to the church each evening, make sure you share the link to the live stream via e-mail, text, semaphore, etc. Post questions on your church Facebook page, on Twitter, Instagram, etc. to engage folks in conversation about what they’ve heard.

3) Be sure to invite the youth to watch! For those who couldn’t make it to Detroit, this is a chance for them to feel like they’ve participated in some way. When their friends get back, they can engage in conversation about the event in a meaningful way. Of course, it’s okay to make this an inter-generational activity.

4) Give shut-ins the information, too! If you’re really edgy, set up a viewing party at a nursing home where you have members or have volunteers visit shut-ins to watch with them.

5) Have a Sunday closing worship viewing party! Live stream the service in your sanctuary while you are worshiping, occasionally turn up the volume to share the experience, OR set up a projector in the fellowship hall for anyone who wants to follow along. What if on that day your church includes the Gathering, the people of Detroit, participants AND you community in the prayers as closing worship is happening?

6) Download and share the “Getting Ready” materials. They give insight into the things we’ll discuss in Detroit, but also include things like teaching what a Theology of the Cross means for Lutherans. You could use these materials for adult education, inter-generational times, or for confirmation or youth group (even if nobody from your church is going to Detroit!).

I’m convinced that the Gathering serves as our Lutheran version of a big tent revival. Imagine what could happen if the enthusiasm, energy and teaching from this revival caught on at home! It will take some extra work and require a commitment of time and resources to make it happen, but I believe the rewards will be magnificent. 


I’d love to hear your ideas, your stories of how your congregation follows along and interacts with events like the Gathering. Remember to post to social media using #RiseUpELCA and share some photos of your viewing parties for others to see.


ELCA is Seeking a Director for the Youth Gathering

RiseUpHeidi Hagstrom has announced her intent to leave her position as the Director of the ELCA Youth Gathering following the 2015 event next summer.  Heidi has been studying in the M.Div program at Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque and intends to pursue rostered ministry as an ordained pastor within the ELCA.  The ELCA has posted the Gathering Director’s position and will be accepting applications for this vital leadership position through the month of September.

The Gathering is one of the most powerful ministries of the church.  It gathers somewhere in the vicinity of 39,000 young people, adult leaders, volunteers and staff together for a amazing faith formation experience.  It presents and lives out the Gospel of Jesus Christ in ways that quite simply cannot be duplicated anywhere else within the church.  It is transformational for the faith lives of the participants, for the community that hosts the Gathering and for the ELCA.  It is a masterpiece of deployed leadership.  Everywhere you look within the Gathering, it speaks the name of Jesus.

I believe that the Gathering creates a culture of leadership that respects the gifts of both individuals and the community.  It listens, learns and then acts.  It is full of joy and laughter, from the stages of the initial planning, all the way through to the last closing worship.  Clearly the Holy Spirit is alive and well through the ministry of the Gathering.

This culture has been carefully tended over years.  And while there will be opportunity later on (it’s a long time until next July!) to thank Heidi, I’d be remiss if I didn’t name that much of the reason this culture exists is because of Heidi and the team with whom she works.  As someone who has brought groups, and been in different levels of leadership within the Gathering, I’m grateful for this culture.

Now, the ELCA will be seeking a new Director for this vibrant ministry.  The hope is to bring someone onboard soon, to join the leadership team and to walk through this last year of the planning cycle with them.  

Might you be someone who would consider this call?  Or perhaps you know someone who has the gifts for this ministry?  Please give this thought and prayer.  More information including a link to an online application can be found on the ELCA’s web site here.

Thanks be to God for the Gathering and its leadership.  Thanks be to God for the person out there somewhere who will be called to this ministry.

Networked in Christ,




NadiaBolzWeberI will select very carefully who I recommend reads this book.  I’ll do so for two reasons:

  • The language Nadia uses in her book is going to cause problems for some people.  She is raw, she is honest, she is herself.  And she can express herself with colorful metaphors better than any other pastor I’ve met.  For those who are sensitive to expletives, well…you’d better go read something by somebody else.
  • Nadia is telling her story.  And Nadia’s story is one that moves, sometimes in a single paragraph, from pain to beauty.  That can be a little rugged to read. It’s the real-deal…

This book is to be read cautiously.  It is not for everybody, but I wish it was.

So here’s the thing.  When I picked up “Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint,” I had very mixed feelings.  I’d heard Nadia Bolz-Weber speak, (including her gig at the ELCA Youth Gathering last summer, where she pretty much hit it out of the park…er…stadium…) and had heard parts of her story. And I wasn’t really in the mood to read another autobiographical story of human fall and resurrection.

Let me be clear:  That is not what this book is about.

Pastrix is a book that chronicles an incomplete journey.  There is no simple or easy resolution.  Like all of us, Nadia lives in a condition of fall and redemption simultaneously.  She writes about the journey that to one level or another we all experience.  She writes about the Jesus who (though she didn’t see it and denied it) climbed into the crap with her.  That’s why even though her experiences are so foreign to me (puking through my nose?) her understanding of the faith, her questions, her doubts, her wonderings all resonate with me, and with those who listen or read.

Nadia’s writing style is compelling.  It mirrors her preaching.

And there is some amazing wisdom.  She writes that when she meets with new members at House for All Sinners and Saints, one of the things she tells them (and this is a paraphrase) is: “It is not a matter of if, but when we are going to disappoint you.  We will.  I will say something…the church will make a decision…something will happen that will cause you hurt.  So think now about how you will respond when that happens…because it will happen.  And you don’t want to be deciding in the heat of the moment how you’ll respond.”  I read that and went straight to my senior pastor and said “we need to say this to our people.”  Because it’s true.  It makes me wonder…if we’d had those conversations with people, if the fallout from 2009 would have been different.

This book is a story of grace and law, as two sides of the same coin.  This is a book that tells Nadia’s story, but more importantly the story of God’s love working in someone’s life.  This book is one I loved reading, and was sad when it was over.

I’m glad Nadia is a pastor within our church.  I’m glad she’s shared her story.   This is a book for the church, and the world.



Detroit 2015: Everyone Please Take a Breath

detroit_city_600x4001It was with some dismay and a bit of disappointment that I’ve been reading the ongoing comments and conversation in blogs and on Facebook about the City of Detroit as the site of the 2015 ELCA Youth Gathering.  I know that the news about the legal bankruptcy of the City of Detroit is very big news, and the implications for the city and those who live in it are immense.  But to be honest, at this point in the game, it’s really not helpful, or even appropriate for those of us who are invested in the ELCA Youth Gathering to begin the ‘sky is falling’ mantras.

I have been very involved in the Gathering since I took my first congregational group to the event in San Antonio in 1988.  I have served on several different leadership teams over the years, and in 2012 was blessed to be the co-team leader for the Practice Discipleship day.  I will not be a team leader in 2015, but will likely be involved in some way.  I think I can take advantage of my experience with the Gathering to make some observations that may be helpful.  (But let me be clear – I’m not speaking on behalf of the Gathering, or the ELCA Churchwide offices.  These are just my thoughts):

  • First, the Gathering is a big deal for congregations, and we all know how much is invested in time, energy and money to get there.  Everyone involved wants it to be a fantastic, transformational experience for young people, and for the Gospel to be proclaimed and experienced boldly.
  • Adult leaders are right to be concerned about the Gathering’s safety and the quality of experience.  If you’re not concerned, something is seriously wrong.  When I take a group of 20 on a retreat to a camp, I’m concerned for these things.  39,000 young people in a strange city should have all the adult leaders on pins and needles, all the time.  This is true for any city that we are in.  To be concerned is to be a good leader.
  • That being said, we all need to trust the Holy Spirit, the process, the Gathering staff and the Safety and Security Team.  I am not exaggerating when I tell you that the people who work on this end of the Gathering take everything into consideration.  Seriously.  Everything.  There is a protocol for any possibility you can imagine.  When I was a team leader, I had a chance to look through the mammoth 3 ring Emergency Preparedness binders.  They have contingency plans for things I couldn’t even have imagined.  And they work in very close partnership with the local police, city officials and even national authorities.  And they are very well staffed, and they do as good a job as I’ve ever seen in training their team.  They are totally, 100% committed to the safety of our young people.Will Detroit present any special challenges?  Probably.  But so did New Orleans (twice.)  So did San Antonio in ’06.  In fact, in every city where I’ve brought young people to the Gathering, there have been issues and challenges.  But with the level of planning and preparation that is in place, and with strong congregational leaders watching out for our kids, and with some common sense, our Gatherings will continue to be safe.  Trust the Holy Spirit.  Trust the process.  Trust the Gathering Staff.  Trust the Safety and Security Team.
  • Perhaps most troubling to me are the conversations about whether we should or should not be going to Detroit because…well…it’s Detroit.  Questions like “Can it even be saved?” or “Shouldn’t we focus on someplace else  that has a better reputation?” have surfaced.  I was not a part of the conversations about choosing Detroit as a Gathering city.  But here’s what I firmly believe:  God is calling the ELCA to go to Detroit precisely because it is Detroit.  I was there this past fall as a part of a group working on theme discernment for the Gathering, and got to spend quite a bit of time in and around the city.  When I went there I had expected to see a city that had bottomed out…that was in desperate need.  There is definitely need in Detroit.  But I saw a city that has begun to rebound.  I saw a city that is in the middle of re-creating itself in ways I could never imagine.  I saw community gardens and playgrounds in lots where houses used to be.  I saw creative neighborhood communities drawing together.  I saw an “urban farm.”  I saw a downtown where employment is on the increase.  I saw a new baseball park…football field…and huge new expansion of convention facilities.  I saw a city growing in vibrancy and diversity where God is already doing amazing things.  This is the side of Detroit that we don’t see in the news.And I saw a unique opportunity for ELCA young people.We believe that Jesus steps into the mess and the crap of our lives, and lifts the cross with which we are all burdened.  Jesus meets us, calls us “friend,” looks us in the eye and does this with grace and with love.  I believe that God is calling us to step in to Detroit; the beauty and the mess, to meet the people there, to call them friend, and to help them to lift the cross with which they have been burdened.My prayer is that we can do it with grace and with love.

This Gathering will not be easy. And it is going to feel different from Gatherings of the past.  There will be new and different challenges.  I believe most of them, to be honest, will be logistical in nature.  But we can deal with that.  We’re good at dealing with that.  Blessed by the Holy Spirit, we’ve always made it work in the past, and we will again.  The team leaders for this event are amazing, gifted people of God who are  creative thinkers and problem solvers.

This blog post is not meant to chastise those who are concerned…nor to shame them.  Every congregation will have to make its own decision about participating.  But please, before you react, pause.  Think big picture.  Trust the process and the leadership.  Trust the Holy Spirit.  Take a breath.   As for my congregation?  We’ll be there. I am excited to be a part of a denomination that will be there.  Together we’re going to step in and become a part of God’s mission in Detroit.

Trusting in Christ,
Todd Buegler
Pastor – Lord of Life Lutheran Church; Maple Grove, Mn
Executive Director – ELCA Youth Ministry Network


Nadia is Going on the Road!


At the ELCA Youth Gathering in New Orleans last summer, something unusual happened.  First, understand that the main stage program is always good.  Speakers…music…video…production…it’s all done really really well.  But in the years that I have been at the event, the ideas are what people walk away with.  A year later, I’ll hear our young people say “remember that one speaker…the one who talked about…?”  That was the case until 2012.  They remember the “what,” but the don’t necessarily remember the “who.”

Enter Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber.

Young people in my congregation connected with her in a way that I hadn’t really seen before.  A year later, they are still talking about Nadia, and what Nadia had to say.  They remember the “what” and the “who.”

It’s not about any kind of celebrity.  As a matter of fact, while Nadia is “out there” doing stuff publicly , she’s more of an ‘anti-celebrity.’  She is quick to point out that it’s about what the Spirit is doing.  She said that wherever she goes, young people who saw her in New Orleans come up to talk to her.  She wrote in an e-mail “It’s crazy. And really kind of awesome.  Whatever happened that night at the Superdome had a broader and deeper impact than I ever could have predicted, which makes me suspect that the Spirit was involved – she’s kind of mischievous like that.”

I suspect that Nadia is right.  The Holy Spirit does all sorts of things we don’t expect.

This fall, Nadia is doing a small “book tour.”  Just 6 stops around the country, to speak and promote the book she recently published.  I’m going to go, and I’m going to see if any of the young people who were with us in New Orleans last summer want to go.  I suspect they will.

You can get more information on the book tour on its web site.  You can also get the dates and basic info on the Network’s CYF master calendar.   A year later, it’ll be fun to see what the Spirit continues to be up to!

in Christ,


Practice Discipleship Launches!

PDIconThe second phase of the Practice Discipleship Initiative will launch in January of 2013.  This project is the result of a dynamic partnership between the ELCA Youth Ministry Network, the ELCA and its Youth Gathering, ELCA Lutheran seminaries and colleges and their faculty who teach children, youth and family ministry, and resource providers of the church.

The Practice Discipleship Initiative fosters faithful, thoughtful and intentional leaders in congregations who follow Jesus in their daily lives.

The Practice Discipleship Initiative will:

Train leadership to accompany young people on their faith journey.


Develop partnerships to strengthen faith formation opportunities for and with young people.

Gather leaders for mutual support and encouragement in ministry.

The project is made possible by funding provided by the ELCA, the North Carolina Synod, Luther Seminary and the ELCA Youth Ministry Network.

Training opportunities for adults who work with children and youth will take place in several different formats.  Seven webinars are being developed to be presented every two weeks beginning in January.  The team of educators developing these webinars is led by Dr. Jeremy Myers of Augsburg College.

These webinars will also be presented live as workshops at the 2013 ELCA Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza, to be held January 25-28 in Anaheim, California.

One coach from each of the 65 ELCA synods will also receive specialized training at the Extravaganza, to return to their synods and present workshops to professionals and volunteers.

The Practice Discipleship Initiative will be directed by Catherine Anderson, the Coordinator of Youth Ministry for the Northeastern Minnesota Synod of the ELCA.  More information on the project, including all of the training resources from the first phase of the project, can be found at


The 800 Pound Gorilla

I was talking with a friend who serves in a different congregation in a different state earlier in the week.  He said that he was looking

In the Dome at the Gathering

forward to the next couple of weeks with a sense of dread.  “Why is that?” I asked.  “Because it’s all going to be about the ELCA Youth Gathering.  The Facebook posts, the Twitter feed…it seems like I’ve heard a ton already this spring and it’s just going to get worse.”

He had made the decision (for his own reasons…I disagreed with him, but they are his own reasons…) not to bring young people to the Gathering this year.  That’s fine.  That is his and his congregation’s choice.

“But the whole world seems to revolve around the gathering as it gets closer.”  he said.

I reached deep down into my bag of pastoral care tricks:

“Suck it up, buttercup.”

On one level, I get his complaints.  The Gathering is a big deal.  A really, really big deal.  There will be 35,000 people gathered there this year.  And it’s almost all done by volunteers (with a healthy dose of the Holy Spirit).  That’s huge.  And he’s right:  it’s been active on the twitter feeds…active on the facebook pages…it’s what a lot of our congregations have poured time and resources into.  So for those who are choosing not to go, I totally understand your frustration if this is what you’re hearing about right now more than anything else.

But here’s the deal:  I can’t do much to make you feel any better.

For whatever reason (again, let’s give some credit to the Holy Spirit) the Gathering has, going back to the 1950’s, crossed a tipping point in the life of the church.  This event has traction.  This event has legs.  I find it remarkable that the Gathering doesn’t even have to promote who the speakers or musicians are.  They don’t do that until a couple of months before the young people board buses.  But without knowing the program, without knowing what’s going to happen, people come.  It’s breathtaking, when you think about it.

People become because as an event, the Gathering is life-changing.  People come because as an event, the Gathering is community-changing.  People come because as an event, a relationship between a community of pilgrims and an entire city is formed.  People come because faith is formed throughout the event.

But there is a challenge ahead of us:  How do we make this less of an event, and more of an ongoing ministry that continues to form faith, form relationships and transform lives?

We’re doing some thinking about that.  In upcoming months you are going to hear more about “Practice Discipleship Phase 2” which will hopefully build on the infrastructure that has been built for this Gathering.  I think it’s going to be really exciting.

And in a couple of ways, it is going to answer the objections of my friend.  If the Gathering becomes a catalyst for a renewal of faith formation for young people, families and congregations, then it is less about event, and more about long-term ministry.  Hopefully the buzz around the Gathering doesn’t fade, and the energy is chanelled in new directions.  I really believe that this year, there is the potential for a whole new thing to come out of the Gathering.

Please join me in praying for the Gathering.  Please join me in praying for the Gathering, for the young people and their leaders who travel there, for the teams, and for the city of New Orleans.  And pray for these new directions that might arise out of this experience.

And in the worst case, my friend will have about 2.5 years ahead of him before the Twitter and Facebook streams really heat up again for the next Gathering!

See most of you in New Orleans!


PS – On Twitter, follow the hashtag #cwts12 for an up to the minute feed on the event!


It’s Not About Us

There is a new webinar that has been added to the catalog of webinars that are a part of the “Practice Discipleship Project” done

Serving in 2009

cooperatively by the Network and the ELCA Youth Gathering.

I’m really excited about the webinar.  It is titled “Compassionate Justice and Service Learning.”

I’d like to give you the description, and then tell you the ‘backstory’ behind it:

This webinar will explore the concept of compassionate justice as part of “Practicing Justice,” one of the ELCA Youth Gathering’s central themes. The language of compassion, justice, and accompaniment will be introduced, along with a biblical overview of justice and what it means to serve in Christ’s name. In addition, leaders will learn a practical, four-step service learning model that can be used in preparing their groups for service and mission experiences, including how to adequately prepare a group, guide meaningful reflection, and share stories and experiences with others.  We will end this session with an important conversation about what comes next – the Gathering is not a destination event, it is a preparation for ministry in your own neighborhood and the world around us! 

The webinar will be led by Dr. Dave Ellingson and Mark Jackson, both of Trinity Lutheran College, and Peggy Hahn of the Texas Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod.

So here’s the deal:  As a church, Christ calls us to serve.  We all know this.  Often, however (and I have been guilty of this…I think all of us have at some point) those with whom we serve become objects of service instead of subjects.

Don’t get me wrong…I love short-term mission trips.  I love taking the young people in our congregation into different geographic and cultural settings, embedding ourselves in a community for 10 or 12 days, and getting deep into a service project.  There is, however, a risk involved in this:  without intention, the focus of what we’re doing can shift and we can start to serve not because of the needs of those in the community in which we work, but because of our need to serve…our need to feel good about ourselves…our need to swing a hammer/build a house/feed a homeless person/feel good about our faith…

To be really honest, sometimes these experiences can even reinforce a class system that we all talk about wanting to break down.  We can approach service like an us/them, with “us” being the benevolent ones.

When we approach service this way, even unintentionally, real relationships of integrity do not form.  The relationships are unequal.

I heard many, many great stories of powerful, relational service and accompaniment in New Orleans after the 2009 event.  I also heard a few stories of folks who were upset because their kids were assigned to service that was more about listening or learning than it was about building/cleaning/working/etc…  “So our kids didn’t get to serve!” they cried.

Sure, that’s true…if you have a narrow vision of service.  But the service Christ calls us to is one that draws us into relationships of integrity.  It calls us to listen first and to act later.  It calls us to do whatever needs to be done, whether that’s swinging a hammer or sitting on a porch listening to a story.

It’s shouldn’t be about our need to serve.  It shouldn’t be about us.

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  John 12: 23-25.

I think we need to be willing to take the expectations and hopes of what we think service is going to be this summer, and let it fall and die, and open ourselves up to how God’s Holy Spirit might just work in the lives of both the people we encounter in New Orleans, and into the lives of the young people that we will shepherd there.  We all need to remember, it’s not about us.  It’s about this new community that the Holy Spirit is going to create this summer of us and them…together.

Our challenge is going to be teaching this understanding of service and service learning to the young people we bring, so that they can come with open minds and open hearts.  That is what the webinar will tend to.  I strongly recommend that you watch and participate in it.  It’s going to be really good, and really helpful!

If they are open to the work of the Spirit, I believe it will produce many, many good seeds.



The Whole is Greater than the Sum of the Parts

There are moments when you suddenly realize that you are in the middle of an organizational “sweet spot.”  Things click.  Visions are realized.  Goals are achieved.  And you look around and say to yourself “I can’t believe that I’m here, in this spot at this time.  I will always remember this time.”

I’ve experienced that a bit this past week as I’ve been blessed to have a front-row seat at the launching of a really cool new initiative.  The “Practice Discipleship Project” is a joint venture between the ELCA Youth Gathering and the Network.  The Gathering has always been a wide river, uniquely capable of bearing the width and breadth of the church.  It’s the largest single gathering of young people in the church…make that, almost any church.  And it’s the largest single gathering of adults in the church as well.

I’ve noticed that for the last 4 or 5 cycles of the Gathering, in addition to being a wide river, it has gotten progressively deeper.   It has become more informed by our theology.  It has become more intentional in its design as a method of faith formation.  It has become more committed to supporting the work of the congregations who bring young people.  It has become more dedicated on the gifts of young people being focused upon issues of justice and reconciliation in a broken world.  It is becoming more.

That’s why I love to be a part of the Gathering.  That “more”?  It is God’s Holy Spirit at work.

There are huge implications in this.  The adults who bring young people to the Gathering from congregations across the church have to be better prepared to tend young people as they struggle to interpret their experiences.  My greatest fear is that a young person walk away from the Gathering and when asked how it was they say “it was cool.”  I want it to be so much more than cool.  And young people need the presence of caring adults as they give language and voice to their experiences.

So the “Practice Discipleship Project” was born.

It is about the “Practice Discipleship” Day that all congregations will participate in at the Gathering, together with their neighbors from their synods.

But it’s also what is happening right now in synods and congregations.  It is really good training for adult leaders of all shapes, sizes, ages and experience levels.

  • It is 3 live training sessions with synod coaches
  • It is 7 webinars
  • It is the webinar topics being presented live at the Extravaganza.
  • And it is a whole lot more.
I’ve sat live through the first two of the webinars and I’ve got to tell you, they were really good.  Dr. Jeremy Myers of Augsburg College rocked Lutheran theology.  The questions he was addressing were “How does God work in the world” and “How do Lutherans read the scriptures.”
And there are 5 more webinars available, being led by Dr. Terri Elton and Dennis “Tiger” McLuen.  They are going to be awesome.
But back to my original thought.  As I sat on my couch and listened and watched Jeremy teaching about the different ways people read and interpret the scriptures on Sunday, I realized that I was in my sweet spot.  Things are coming together.  The full year of planning was being realized, and people were engaged, listening and asking questions.  It doesn’t get any better than this.    (and the best part is that the recordings of the webinars are out there…available to all and free for the taking.)  And there are still 5 more “live” weeks to go.  For more information, go to
Thank you to the Practice Discipleship Team.  Thank you to my friend and colleague, Catherine Anderson, and thank you to all who participated.
The resources being provided for the church (the whole church, whether or not you are participating in the ELCA Youth Gathering) will be a gift for the church.  It’s a sweet spot gift.
It’s an exciting time to be involved in children, youth and family ministry in the ELCA.  Someday, I know I’ll look back and say  “That was so amazing…I’m so glad I got to be there…”  I hope you will say the same.
Thanks be to God!